Robert M. Danin

Middle East Matters

Danin analyzes critical developments and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

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The President and the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process in 2013

by Robert M. Danin
January 26, 2012

Barack Obama takes the oath given by U.S. supreme chief justice John Roberts, Jr. during the inauguration ceremony in Washington on January 20, 2009. (Jim Bourg/Courtesy Reuters). Barack Obama takes the oath given by U.S. supreme chief justice John Roberts, Jr. during the inauguration ceremony in Washington on January 20, 2009. (Jim Bourg/Courtesy Reuters).

Over the course of the Obama administration, Washington’s objectives for Israeli-Palestinian peace have shifted dramatically. President Obama took office seeking to resolve the conflict within two years. Deeming it a “national security objective” and one of his highest priorities, he immediately appointed Senator George Mitchell his special Middle East envoy. Three years later, Mitchell is no longer in the position, and the president is no longer seeking to resolve the conflict.

In May of last year, the president lowered his sights, calling for Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate on just two of the core final status peace issues—borders and security arrangements—while deferring talks on some other thorny issues, such as the final disposition of Jerusalem or the fate of the Palestinian refugees. Curiously, after articulating the basis for a borders-for-security deal rather than dispatch his envoy to the Middle East, the president effectively shelved the issue.

Frustrated with both Israeli prime minister Netanyahu and Palestinian president Abbas and consumed with other regional issues like Egypt, Libya, and the Arab uprisings, the Obama administration has downgraded the priority of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. Indeed, the administration has shifted from conflict resolution to conflict management.

Once the president is sworn in on January 20, 2013, he will no doubt have to confront the question of how to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is probably safe to say that the century-old dispute will not have been resolved by then.

Whether he wants to or not, come next January, the president will be forced to make some decisions about how best to approach the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Will the president, regardless of who he is, renew Obama’s original pledge and try to resolve the conflict? Or will he instead seek simply to manage it? The context in which he tackles this question will no doubt be dramatically different given. I address these questions as part of CFR’s Campaign 2012, a series of video briefings on the top foreign policy issues debated in the run-up to the 2012 U.S. elections. Check out the video below (also available on YouTube here), and please post a response suggesting what you think are the challenges the president is likely to face.

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  • Posted by Thomas G. Mitchell, PhD

    I’m presently writing a book on the future of the two-state solution that begins with the premise that any Israeli government in the foreseeable future will include the Likud, or some party further to the Right, as its main component. Looking at case studies where conservative Western governments have given up occupied territory in exchange or hope of peace such as Sinai, Gaza, and Namibia, do not give us much hope because the West Bank is much more important ideologically for the Likud than were the Sinai and Gaza or than was South-West Africa for Pretoria. So the sensible course for the next president, either Obama or Romney, would be to hold fire until the civil war in Syria resolves itself and then see if the new regime, if there is one, is amenable to land for peace. Otherwise the president would be just wasting precious political capital with no prospect of seeing any return on investment.

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